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Author Recommendation: Robert Masello

This month, Robert Masello published his latest book, a fast-paced horror novel called Vigil. For a long time, I've been meaning to recommend his work to people, especially to other writers, and this seems like a good time to do so.

I first encountered Masello completely by accident, when I was browsing the writing section in a bookstore and I came across his book A Friend in the Business: Honest Advice for Anyone Trying to Break into Television Writing (Perigee, 2000). Although I had little interest in writing for TV from a practical perspective, I still decided to buy the book. (Writing for TV as a career would require moving to Los Angeles, something I have little to no interest in doing.)


What I discovered was a breezy, humorous book, with a delightfully askew look at the world of Hollywood. Masello talks about how he tried to break into television. The story of how he accidentally ended up on the staff of a fantasy genre show, falling ever upwards, is both hilarious and instructive. Throughout, the book has a self-deprecating tone which is endearing.

I decided to keep an eye out for Masello's books, although sad to say, most of his work was out of print. However, I managed to get copies of his previous novels, as well as two books that any fantasy or horror writer would find of value: Raising Hell: A Concise History of the Black Arts -- and Those Who Dared to Practice Them (Perigee, 1996), and Fallen Angels...and Spirits of the Dark (Perigee, 1994). I found all his previous books to be just as witty as his one on breaking into television. In fact, I think I can best summarize Masello's dry wit by quoting the dedication page from his novel Private Demons:


For Steven Spielberg...
you never know.


A year later, Masello published
Writer Tells All: Insider Secrets to Getting Your Book Published
(Owl, 2001), which explains the publishing industry in the same manner in which the previous book explained the television industry. For example, Masello tells the story of how he tried to get out of his option clause, by offering two pages of a horror novel to his old publisher. Problem: they loved those two pages, and Masello found himself writing a novel, with no idea how to do it. (Don't worry, he managed.) His personal anecdotes are both instructive and entertaining, and I still keep the book within easy reach for quick reference.

This year, Masello fans have good reason to rejoice, as he has two new books out. The first, Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know (Writer's Digest Books, 2005), is not a book about grammar or technique, but rather, a charming conversation on how to cope with the daily issues of living as a writer. Personally, what I found most valuable were the rules that contradicted the ones we're been taught before. For example, Rule 56, "Buy the Smoking Jacket," takes issue with the all the writing teachers who challenged their students with the question, "Do you want to write...or do you just want to be a writer?" The book reminds us that there is nothing wrong with visualizing yourself as a success to inspire you to get your words written.

The second book, Vigil (Berkley, 2005), which I noted above, is a horror novel with rich characterization. Masello's characters all have real lives that don't just get put on hold when the ancient evil is released. A sense of realism pervades the novel; if such an evil did come back to threaten the world, one feels that the story would unfold exactly as it does here.

But getting back to his writing on writing --

What makes Masello's books on writing so valuable is his willingness to put himself out there, to point out his own follies and mistakes, and to invite the reader to laugh along with him. I cannot recommend his books highly enough, especially to my fellow writers.

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